Heading into this year's Sport/Utility of the Year competition, nary an editor predicted that the all-new Mercedes-Benz GL450 would roll away with the coveted caliper trophy. Inasmuch as value is one of the three major criteria--the others being in-class superiority and marketplace significance--the GL already seemed handicapped. Its base price of $55,675 hardly sounds economical, not to mention that, when well equipped, as was our tester, a GL's window sticker can easily push $70 grand. As for superiority and significance, heck, several voters quipped that they wouldn't be surprised if the GL missed the first cut. Why? Because so few of our staff had spent quality time at the wheel or inside of Mercedes's first full-size sport/utility. And given that the GL shares a platform with the M- and R-Classes, with which every editor's been intimate, yet never quite fallen in love, we weren't expecting fireworks.

But following two intense weeks with the GL, it was all sparklers and Roman candles for the biggest Benz ever offered in the United States.

Although its proportions aren't subtle--it measures just over 200 inches long, nearly 76 inches wide, and over 72 inches tall--the GL never feels like a full-size brute that can swallow seven; rather, it drives small, coming across more as an S-Class sedan than an Escalade competitor.

Mercedes tuned the GL's chassis to near perfection. From the tight and linear steering to the robust four-wheel vented disc brakes to the standard adjustable air suspension, the GL easily manages to put the sport in sport/utility. The front end bites through turns. The rear end never wallows. And the ride can be either supple or taut--simply depress the dash-mounted button to adjust the dampers from comfort to sport.

Through our objective handling tests, the GL solidified our impressions. Its respectable skidpad number of 0.76 g bettered those of all four GM full-size 'utes as well as the lateral grip of the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator. Ditto for its slalom speed of 59.2 mph, which was faster than those of every full-sizer save the athletic Audi. Subjected to the handling- and braking-intensive figure-eight test, the GL scurried through in 28.2 seconds at 0.59 g average, fifth best in the field and superior to many of the small, sporty SUVs, including the Nitro, Outlander, and RAV4. In 60-to-0-mph braking, the GL, at 129 feet, finished near the front of the pack, tying with the much lighter CR-V and Santa Fe.

At the dragstrip, the GL continued to astound. Posting the seventh-heaviest curb weight (5468 pounds) and the fifth-highest power rating (335 horsepower), the GL nevertheless delivered the third-quickest 0-to-60-mph sprint (6.5 seconds) and the quickest quarter-mile time (14.9 seconds at 93.0 mph), prompting the query: How'd this big boy get so quick? Peek under the hood, and the answer is evident--a powertrain as slick and refined as a Rolls-Royce turbofan. A member of Mercedes's all-new four-valve M273 engine family, replete with dual-overhead camshafts, two-stage magnesium intake manifold, and variable valve timing on intake and exhaust valves, the GL's all-aluminum 4.7-liter, 335-horse V-8, along with its seamless, seven-cog 7G-Tronic partner, distributes power smoothly and effortlessly via the full-time 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, delivering acceleration that's speedy and serene. Motor Trend exec editor Stone observes that "the throttle/tip-in/shift phasing of this powertrain is spot on, something that has in the past been a problem on certain Mercedes models."

As one of seven sport/utilities to actually hit 100 mph at the test track (in 17.3 seconds, it was also the quickest to triple digits), the GL is sneaky-fast, capable of getting you into trouble. More important, the GL further is capable of keeping you out of trouble, thanks to myriad standard safety features, including eight airbags, active front head restraints, seatbelt pretensioners, ABS with EBD and brake assist, and electronic stability and traction control.

Of course, the GL450 wouldn't be the complete player it is if not for its clever packaging. Although 14 of this year's 22 SUVs offered a third row, none was as roomy and comfortable as the GL's, which boasted 34.0 inches of legroom (nearly five more than in the Escalade), 50.5 inches of shoulder room (almost two more than in the Q7), and 38.5 inches of headroom, about an inch more than in the Navigator. Technical director Frank Markus says, "I could sit back here from L.A. to Detroit!" Hyperbole, perhaps, but the GL's third row is ideal not only for kids but also for six-foot-tall adults, all of whom will enjoy a standard fixed sunroof. That level of comfort carries over to the first and second rows, too, both of which coddle occupants with ample room that features real leather and wood trim (a $1500 option). As a Mercedes, the GL isn't short on options, allowing customers to tailor their vehicles appropriately. From a DVD-based navigation system and a harman/kardon digital surround-sound system to a rearview backup camera and a heated steering wheel, the GL offers goodies for all tastes and budgets.

For those who believe the GL's standard 7.9 inches of ground clearance and 19.3 inches of fording depth don't quite make it off-road-worthy, there's a $2200 Off Road Package--two locking differentials, front and rear underbody skidplates, and an adaptive damping system--that bumps those clearances up to 10.9 and 23.6 inches, respectively, enough room to allow the rock-crawling mechanicals to work their magic.

Want more variety? For those concerned about fuel mileage, a 45-state legal, Bluetec turbodiesel-powered version is right around the corner. It runs on the new low-sulfur diesel fuel and combines low-end torque with reduced emissions. Performance? It's not officially announced, but a 500-plus-horsepower AMG 63 version will enter the model mix some time soon, too.

Sure it's not cheap, but neither are well-equipped versions of the Audi Q7, GMC Yukon Denali, Lincoln Navigator, and Cadillac Escalade, the last burdened with a base price $1605 dearer than the GL's. Value? The GL's got it. In-class superiority? You bet, certainly considering the GL's ingenious interior packaging and stout performance numbers, most of which sit either atop or near the top of the field. As for marketplace significance, not only is the GL Mercedes's first full-size sport/utility, it's also its best ever. Add it up, and you'll know why we named the Mercedes-Benz GL450 Motor Trend's 2007 Sport/Utility of the Year.

2007 Mercedes-Benz GL450
Powertrain/Chassis
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine type 90&drg; V-8 alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 284.5 cu in/4663 cc
Compression ratio 10.7:1
Power (SAE NET) 335 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE NET) 339 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm
Weight to power 16.3 lb/hp
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Axle/finaL ratio 3.70:1/2.70:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, adj air springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, adj air springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 18.6:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.6
Brakes, f;r 14.7-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 19 x 8.5 in, cast aluminum
Tires 275/55R19 111H M+S Continental 4x4 Contact
Dimensions
Wheelbase 121.1 in
Track, f/r 65.0/65.1 in
Length x width x height 200.3 x 75.6 x 72.4 in
Ground clearance 10.9 in
Apprch/depart angle 33.0/27.0 deg
Turning circle 49.7 ft
Curb weight 5468 lb
Weight dist, f/r 51/49%
Towing capacity 7500 lb
Seating capacity 7
Headroom, f/M/r 40.1/40.6/38.5 in
Legroom, f/M/r 43.0/40.0/34.0 in
Shoulder room, f/M/r 58.3/58.9/50.5 in
Cargo vol behind, f/M/r 83.3/43.8/10.6 cu ft
Test Data
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.2 sec
0-40 3.4
0-50 4.7
0-60 6.5
0-70 8.5
0-80 10.9
0-90 14.0
0-100 17.3
Passing, 45-65 mph 3.4
Quarter mile 14.9 sec @ 93.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 129 ft
600-ft slalom 59.2 mph avg
Lateral acceleration 0.76 g avg
MT figure eight 28.2 sec @ 0.59 g avg
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1900 rpm
Consumer Info
Base price $55,675
Price as tested $66,355
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, f/m side, f/m/r curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Roadside assistance Unlimited
Fuel capacity 26.4 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 14/18 mpg
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
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